You have an idea that’s a little—or perhaps, very—outside the box. You’d like to float it by your teammates, but in a way that underscores that it’s just a suggestion. After all, you’re just throwing some ideas against the wall, trying to come up with something that’ll work.
It’s a delicate balance. You don’t want other people to think you’re set on this approach, or that you’ve found some magical solution, when you’re not even sure how you’d execute it. But, you do think your idea’s worth considering.
Sometimes, when people are afraid of overselling an idea, they end up introducing it in a way that sinks the pitch before they’ve even finished sharing it.
Here are three phrases you want to be sure to avoid, as well as better options.
1. “This Is Probably a Horrible Idea…”
Over the course of the workday, you have a ton of information to process. So, you’re constantly categorizing. You order tasks by priority: What needs to happen now and what can wait? You break them out by how long they’ll take (e.g., What can you actually accomplish before that mid-morning meeting?). You think through what you can push ahead by yourself versus what you can’t move on until you hear back from a co-worker.
And you know what else you categorize? What is—and isn’t—worth your time, or in other words, what is (or isn’t) a “good idea.” So, when someone starts a pitch with the phrase “This is probably not a good idea,” your brain thanks him for being so transparent, dials down the listening and creative thinking skills, and prepares itself to say, “Nope, as you suggested, that isn’t worth our time.”
A much better approach is to present your idea as “an option.” After all, you’re probably prefacing it that way because you want to be clear you’re not suggesting a cure-all, just a possibility. So, position your thought as a contender, one to be considered and then adopted (or dropped), accordingly.
2. “I’m Sure This Won’t Work…”
Similarly, you can’t imagine your teammate (or boss) saying, “Yes, absolutely, let’s pursue the idea that’ll never work!” And, to some degree, that’s why you’re framing it that way.
No, it’s not for some serious, subconscious reason: It’s just that sometimes you’re asked for suggestions off the cuff. And when you’re ad-libbing, you want to frame your thoughts so that you’re not suddenly approved and directed to spend the next six months of your life on an approach you thought through for six seconds.
In this instance, your best bet is to use wording that indicates you’re riffing. So, lead with, “Off the top of my head…” or “My instinct is to go in such-and-such direction, but I’d like to consider it further.” Because the truth is, you’re not sure if it will work, but it just might—which is why you’re saying it out loud.
3. “I Haven’t Really Thought This Through…”
You’re in one of those rare meetings with your boss when you have his full attention—and inspiration strikes. You’d like to share your idea while he’s focusing on you, so you’re sharing your thoughts as they come to you (rather than thinking before you speak).
You’re tempted to admit you haven’t thought it through, or use the suggested language above and emphasize how impromptu your suggestion is. However, either of these lines will prompt your boss to suggest that you reconvene once you’ve thought it through.
To keep his attention, try: “Here’s what I’m thinking in broad strokes.” The great thing about this is that you avoid the impression that your idea is half-baked, but it still makes it clear that the details are TBD.
Sometimes you want to share your ideas in the brainstorming stage. Use the language above to strike the right balance and avoid overselling (or sabotaging) your ideas.